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Students attend Bessette canonization in Rome

Melissa Flanagan | Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A group of Notre Dame students studying abroad in Europe this semester were able to attend the canonization of St. André Bessette, the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross to be canonized, in Rome Oct. 17.

Last spring, the University contacted students who were planning to go abroad this semester to gauge interest in attending the canonization, according to Fr. Joe Carey, interim director of Campus Ministry.

“It was talked about in the spring that our students abroad would be the ones who would go,” Carey said. “We knew a long time ago that the canonization would be in October.”

The students completed a short survey on why they wanted to attend the canonization and received an e-mail to notify them whether they were accepted.

Some students, such as junior Sarah Kimball, who is currently studying abroad in Dublin, were drawn to the canonization because of prior knowledge of Bessette.

“I decided to go because I learned about Brother André in a class last year, and I just thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see a canonization at the Vatican,” Kimball said.

The group of students who made the trip from different countries around Europe they were in was treated to an all-weekend affair. The University had activities and meals scheduled for the students from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

Junior Monica Townsend, who is studying in Angers, France, said she was particularly touched by a film the group watched about Bessette’s life, called “The Miracle Man of Montreal.”

“It was a really great orientation to the life of the man we had come to see,” Townsend said, “and nearly everyone was tearing up hearing the testimonies of the people he had cured of some illness or disability.”

The Center for Social Concerns also organized service projects for the students to participate in the day before the canonization, Carey said. The activities helped the students truly understand the services Bessette performed throughout his life.

“I went with a group that helped organize and sort medicine for the St. Egidio community, a service group that offers aid and assistance to the homeless and elderly in Rome and around the world,” Townsend said. “It really hammered home the theme of selfless service that Saint André exemplified.”

For Kimball, the most powerful experience was being surrounded by thousands of people who were all connected by their faith during the canonization in Saint Peter’s Square, Kimball said.

“I always heard about how being Catholic meant you were part of a larger community that spans the world, and we are all connected by being Catholic,” Kimball said. “However, it was hard for me to really grasp that concept until I went to Rome and just saw the sheer number of people from all around the globe.”

The canonization was an important one for not only the Congregation of Holy Cross, but also Canadian Catholics, as Bessette is the first Canadian saint.

Pope Benedict XVI also canonized five other saints at the same time as Bessette. Excerpts about each saint were read in his or her native language, Townsend said, and after each name was announced, it was easy to tell where each saints’ following was located.

Townsend said the fact that the ceremony connected so many people made it an even more incredible experience.

“It offered an extreme sense of spirituality and also pride in being part of the Catholic community, a community that really does touch every corner of the world,” Townsend said. “It was awesome that ND could give us that opportunity.”

Even though they were thousands of miles away from South Bend, the group of students remained loyal to their school over the weekend by watching the Notre Dame football game against Western Michigan.

“It was an incredible mixture of the wonder of being in a foreign country and of the sense of home I get from Notre Dame,” Kimball said.